TWO FEMALE SPIES. A BANNED MASTERPIECE. A BOOK THAT CHANGED HISTORY.
1956. A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.
But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.
In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.
Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago back into Russia by any means necessary.
It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.
The Secrets We Kept is one of those rare books that not only are you hooked from, but, know you’re going to love after reading just the first page. I was instantly transported to the 1950s and completely immersed in both Irina’s and Olga’s stories.
The book is a fictional account of how Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago was smuggled out of the East and into the West before authorities could stop it from being published. And how it was then later smuggled back into Russia to be enjoyed and celebrated by many, many people. However, this was by no means an easy feat and Olga, Boris Pasternak’s mistress, was treated appallingly for her role in helping him. The story is incredible and I had no idea about the history of Doctor Zhivago or the brave people that worked to get the book into the world.
Running alternately with Olga’s chapters are Irina’s, which are set in Washington, DC. These were my favourite chapters in the book. I loved the spy aspect of the story and how Irina was posing as a typist whilst actually undertaking dangerous missions for the CIA. She’s a strong character who is not to be underestimated, which is just like many of the other women in the book, who are at most times looked down on by the male characters. This paragraph summed things up perfectly:
Sometimes they’d refer to us not by name but by hair color or body type: Blondie, Red, Tits. We had our secret names for them, too: Grabber, Coffee Breath, Teeth.
They would call us girls, but we were not. We came to the Agency by way of Radcliffe, Vassar, Smith. We were the first daughters of our families to earn degrees. Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly planes. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was “Can you type?”
And Irina can do much more than just type, as can Sally, who teaches and guides Irina in her missions, which I’ll say no more about to avoid any spoilers!
The Secrets We Kept is a brilliantly told story, about a piece of relatively unknown history. It is tense, enthralling and has brilliant female characters. You’ll not be able to put it down and you will think about the characters long after you finish the book. This is one of my books of the year, for sure!
Thank you to Anne Cater for inviting me on the tour and to Hutchinson for a copy of the book, which is available now!
Follow the rest of the tour, here: